Over winter break, the kids and I took a trip to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas on the way home from New Orleans. Unlike many other National Parks, you can see much in a short time at Hot Springs. In fact, we stayed just for the day but still were able to see a lot of the park. Our base camp for our trip was the Hot Springs KOA where we rented one of the Camping Cabins. With beds for 4-6 people, the Camping Cabins at KOA Campgrounds have been a great choice for us at several of our vacation destinations.
Although there are 26 miles of hiking trails in the park, the weather was especially cold during our visit so we decided to focus our touring on “Bathhouse Row.” The geology of the hot springs is interesting. Originating in the Ouachita Mountains, rain water flows down the mountains into cracks in the ground and sinks deep underground where it is heated to high temperatures due to the increased temperatures of the deep rock layers. The water than rises through the sandstone layers and mixes with cooler rainwater to surface as heated thermal springs. Emerging in the area that is now downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas, the entire city has been built around them.
People in modern history have been utilizing the thermal waters for centuries as a cure for various health ailments and there is also evidence that native American tribes gathered in the area for thousands of years. In the 1800’s, large numbers of Americans began to come to the area where they would drink the water and soak in the thermal springs in order to treat various health ailments. By the 1900’s, the current bath houses were being built for clientele of many social classes and physicians were prescribing various thermal water treatments. Many of the bath houses catered to the wealthy and were quite luxurious with a spa like atmosphere. Currently, several spas remain open to offer visitors both traditional and modern bath experiences.
After stopping at the outdoor thermal fountain, our visit started at the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center. We picked up Junior Ranger packets and watched the park orientation video which explained the history of the hot springs. No longer in operation as a bathhouse, the Fordyce Bathhouse is open to tour so visitors can see what it was like in the 1900’s. The Fordyce Bathhouse had been a luxurious haven for wealthy visitors so it is very ornate with beautiful tile and stained glass. We took our time to look around and had fun “trying out” the various showers and bathtubs while the kids completed their Junior Ranger packets.
All in all we enjoyed our visit. It is an interesting part of Americana and fun to see how the wealthy “played” in the early 20th century. After touring the Fordyce Bathhouse the kids completed the activities and received their Junior Ranger badges. Hot Springs National Park is a nice place to spend an afternoon.